The U.S. hemp industry has seen the plant’s many uses produce big profits in the three years since federal authorities legalized it in the 2018 Farm Bill. Besides its value as a CBD-rich medicine, hemp is included in a variety of commercial and industrial products, including rope, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, plastics, insulation and biofuel.
This week, researchers at Oregon State University are discussing yet another potential new use for the plant: animal feed.
Leaders in a study of research trials hope the massive quantities of byproduct left behind when hundreds of hemp growers in Oregon extract CBD oil from their plants can be used to help feed cows, chickens, sheep and other farm animals.
There’s big potential here
Dr. Serkan Ates, a professor in OSU’s Animal and Rangeland Sciences Department, has completed two years of research trials that incorporate varying levels of hemp byproduct in the animals’ feed. As part of the trial, Ates’ team has monitored what effects the byproduct has on the animals’ health and behavior, as well as how fast their digestive systems can process the trace amounts of THC still left in the plant.
So far, Ates told Oregon Public Broadcasting, the results have been promising.
“We see that there’s big potential,” he said. “If you just utilize this as an animal feed, it’s going to really be a cheap source of another feed for the animals.”
What this could mean for hemp farmers
Hemp biomass is by no means the most valuable part of the plant. But leaders in Oregon’s CBD industry hope that finding a sustainable way to utilize and dispose of it can open up new markets. For the time being, biomass is still mostly thrown out.
Since the post-Farm Bill boom in early 2019, Oregon’s hemp and CBD industries have regressed due to oversupply. Simply put, way too many cannabis entrepreneurs jumped into the fledgling hemp market expecting to hit pay dirt, only to find that the competition was stiffer and customer demand lower than they expected.
Per OPB, some 64,000 acres were licensed for hemp growing with the Oregon Department of Agriculture in 2019. That number dropped to about 27,500 acres last year, and is down to 7,000 acres this year.
Adding a new market through animal feed could open the door for hemp growers to rejoin the Green Rush, Ates said. The Oregon State professor’s research will continue into early 2022.